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Six key lessons in embedding corporate responsibility, ethics and sustainability

In the Q&A below, I asked Mark Wade, former founder member of  Shell’s Sustainable Development Group and a long-standing expert on learning and development, to answer a few questions on the area of learning, development and embedding CR into a business.

Below are my questions and Mark’s replies.

Interesting stuff that will only take you a minute or two to read.

1) Give us your career summary to date, in just a few lines

I had a long and varied career with Shell before moving in 1997 to the Corporate Centre as a founder member of the Sustainable Development Group.

I relinquished my position as Head of Sustainable Development Policy, Strategy & Reporting in 2003 on moving to Shell Learning. 

Here I led the Sustainability Learning programme incorporating this approach into all stages of the talent pipeline from graduate attraction to senior executive development.

I currently work with senior executives in major corporations, institutions and enterprise organisations helping them understand the operational and strategic importance of sustainability and guiding individual and organisational change.

2) You’ve been a pioneer in sustainable development and corporate responsibility learning. What are the four/five most important lessons you’ve learned about how executives and managers learn effectively in this area?

1.    Never waste a good crisis! This is the time when people are prepared to learn, see the need for change and do things differently.

2.    Put the case for change in the context of the priorities of the leader – see life through their eyes and show how the business case and the values case for sustainability/CR can add value to their roles, whether this be improving operational efficiency in the short term or driving strategic change and portfolio evolution longer term.

3.    Get intimate and practical. Conveying generalities is not enough – learning is most effective when applied to the day job and in ways that engage the owner of the role in how to do things better on a ‘Monday morning.’

4.    Provide a safe place for learning, then get real. Learning is best done through ‘doing’ and taking risks in trying out news ways. Courage, confidence and competence can be generated quickly when doing this in a safe place through role plays where experimentation is encouraged and mistakes mitigated. With a solid grasp of the essentials move to the ‘real’ to hone skills and develop from ‘basic understanding’ through ‘skilled’ to ‘mastery and advocacy.’ 

5.    Match the learning experience to the scale of the change challenge and learning need. 

The greater the transformational change sought the greater the learning need. Simple training can suffice for learning new technical skills but transformation can only be achieved through a profound change in the consciousness of leaders.

This is best achieved through deep dive, experiential learning that challenges the inner self, value systems and fundamental assumptions/beliefs. From this new perspective of ‘self’ and ‘purpose’ within the wider world comes the drive for transformational leadership.

6.    Match the soft wiring with the hard wiring. It is essential to support newly developed mindsets, competences and behaviours (soft wiring) with aligned governance (hardwiring). 

It is a waste of time (and money) providing leadership development programmes without aligning the governance of the organisation (the new rules of the game: commitments, standards & policies, systems & processes, KPIs/measures of success, recognition & reward process etc.)  to support and encourage the delivery of new ways of working.

Likewise it is equally useless to just write the new rule book (hardwiring) without generating the ‘will, thrill skill’ of sustainability/CR (soft wiring) through leadership development. The soft and the hardwiring have to be integrated within a concerted change programme to achieve lasting systemic change.

3) Everyone says they have embedded CR, but few really have. Which companies are heading in that direction, in your view?

The ‘usual suspects’ in answer to this oft-posed question are Unilever and Interface and rightly so. Others include Proctor & Gamble, Timberland and smaller companies such as Icebreaker

4) What distinguishes them from the rest?

These companies have all moved from being early sustainability ‘Adopters’ seeking operational efficiencies through eco-efficiency, to being ‘Innovators’ who are challenging their entire business model to being ‘Leaders’ determined to show the way not just for their sector but as beacons of responsible business and how companies can best provide for the needs of a sustainable world.

To them sustainability/CR is not a subject or an issue to be addressed on a Friday afternoon, it is about all that they do and how they do it. Each in their own way are going further and challenging the status quo on accepted norms and showing that things can be done better – from Unilever’s move away from quarterly reporting, Interface’s de-coupling of value growth from consumption and Icebreaker adoption of their cyclical ‘born to worn’ ethos.

None of these extraordinary companies would claim to be fully sustainable or to have completed their transformational journey, but they are showing the way with courage and determination. In doing so they are bringing their people with them at all levels, empowering them to think and act differently and redefining success in the process.

5) What role does online training and learning have to play in how more companies try to embed CR and sustainability in the coming years?

e-Learning has a valuable role to play to complement traditional learning pedagogies.

It has the dual potential of reaching a lot of people in an intimate way – features traditional methods struggle to combine. Communications can reach tens of thousands of people but are only effective in raising ‘Basic Awareness & Understanding.’

Training and leadership development programmes can generate the necessary level of intimacy with individuals. They can be tailored to relate to the day jobs of participants in a meaningful way to achieve ‘Working Knowledge’ and ‘Skilled’ competency levels. But they are usually too expensive and time consuming to touch more than a chosen few. 

e-Learning tools can satisfy both needs, so long as they embody the sound principles of learning and are integrated into wider organisational learning strategies. e-Learning tools need to be tailored to serve the competency  level sought.

The higher the level the more tailored they will need to be. The best will provide basic modules to generate a common grounding for all plus a suite of options each designed to serve the needs of target ‘communities of shared interest’ such as finance managers, sales people, engineers, or those operating in emerging or mature markets etc.

More about Mark, here.

Here are some upcoming online management training courses.

To see a one minute video on each click the links below:

1) Getting to Grips with Corporate Responsibility (begins September 30 2013)

is an eight module comprehensive course covering the history of CR,
business case, employee engagement, community and NGO partnerships,
supply chains, communications, reporting, marketing and embedding CR.

2) Getting to Grips with CR Reporting (begins September 30 2013)

is a four module course looking at best practices in corporate
responsibility reporting that actually deliver for your company, for
stakeholders, and help improve business performance.

3) Getting to Grips with CR Communications (begins October 28 2013)
is a four module course looking at best practices in corporate
responsibility communications and marketing. The course looks in-depth
at best practice in CR and sustainability communications and the tactics
and strategies that deliver value for companies and compelling stories
to stakeholders.